Unlike other years, the budget had to provide extra focus on three issues this year – public health, food security and social security. These issues according to the experts were more vital than the country’s economic growth this year.
A 23 per cent increase was proposed in the expense for the reeling health sector. We need proper implementation of this allocation as the records in the relevant government body monitoring project implementation revealed that until March, the health services division could spend only 37 per cent of the fund allocated for it in the current fiscal despite our poor healthcare system. Hence, we need drastic improvement of project implementation capacity as well as elimination of corruption from this sector.
We must keep in mind that we have a huge population–while creating facilities including infrastructure, manpower and medical supplies. Our preparation and facilities should not be focused only on Covid-19 but also other possible pandemics in the future. Health research should also receive proper fund allocation as that will be critical at a certain point.
Moreover, we should focus on building immunity as a preventive measure by consuming fresh and nutritious foods. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina once launched ‘Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar’ program to make us food-sufficient. Such program can help us consume fresh foods which will create immunity in the long run. If we keep getting sick by in taking impure foods, then investing on the health sector will not help much.
Social security issue also has received priority in this budget as months-long lockdown with a drop in consumption caused joblessness and eroded the income of millions. It is actually threatening Bangladesh’s recent achievements in poverty alleviation and social security.17 percent of the budget or Tk. 955.74 billion was kept for social security by adding hundreds of thousands from the marginal groups to existing allowance programs.
To create employment and ensure social security, the government needs to focus on creation of jobs by emphasizing on two areas. Firstly, we need to launch ‘Food for Work’ like programs for the low income group both at urban and rural areas. Secondly, there are many small and medium businesses which has absorbed huge blow by this Covid-19 situation. We need to create opportunities for them by allocating long-term loans, facilitating new export or distribution channels etc. Additionally, we need to accommodate the middle income group under social safety net.
Another important aspect of this year’s budget was food security. The finance minister has reserved Tk 225 billion for the agriculture sector as part of the initiative of ensuring food security. An additional Tk. 20 billion has been allocated to incentivize farm mechanization while the government also proposes Tk. 95 billion in the fiscal year for agricultural subsidies.
The government also needs to have some specific steps. Right now, we have many unemployed people including many who returned and will return from abroad losing their jobs. PM Hasina declared to cultivate every possible land to ensure food security. We should act on that.
At every union, there are arable government and private lands unused. We should build cooperatives of these unemployed people and lease those lands to the cooperatives for creation of multipurpose modern agricultural farms. These people will be the owners and they will sell to the government, in fair price. Cutting the corrupt middlemen will remain important in this process. Here, political commitment will be the key to implement this program successfully.
Moreover, the government should try to provide ration cards to the lower to middle income group people. Though Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina already declared distribution of 50 lakh additional ration cards, including the middle income group or families with unemployed youths is important.
With the opportunity offered to money launderers by the government to whiten black money failing to draw a significant response, the new budget has made a new, lucrative proposition and it is to invest the money and none, not even the income tax authority, will be able to question its source. Though many criticized it but we should welcome it as we cannot deny the presence of huge black money in our country, which is being laundered to serve in foreign economies.
Individual taxpayers in FY2020-21 will be allowed to disclose any type of undisclosed property by paying a certain tax per square foot; declare undisclosed cash, bank deposits, savings certificates, shares, bonds or any other securities by paying a 10 percent tax; and invest money in the capital market by paying 10 percent tax on the value of the investment. However, the government will be hard on earning black money through under-invoicing, over-invoicing or false declarations of investments by imposing a 50 per cent tax in those cases.
A drive against undeclared black money source like; casino business should be launched. By all means, black money should be whitened and zero tolerance of corruption in this drive is a must. Here, the problem remains ‘lack of trust’ as many were harassed in the terms of previous governments after whitening black money. We need to bring back the trust.
Due to Covid-19 situation, there was very low discussion over the budget. Truly, the budget for FY2020-21 is highly ambitious with the intention to keep the business sector normal with some additional priorities while ensuring the development of the country.
The challenge will be the money sourcing as the government should not pressurize the lower and middle income group for taxes; should not pressurize the banks as they are already under pressure to disburse the funds of government’s different stimulus package; should not expect heavy support from foreign donors as every economy is in need of fund now. Rather, the government should try out alternatives sources of funds and should immediately create new investment policy to attract foreign investment which is being diverted from countries like China due to Covid-19. Moreover, increasing production inside the boundary should be prioritized.
Every year, we spend a lot for public administration. PM Hasina ensured that the government employees are highly benefitted with lucrative incentives even after retirement. Despite that, corruption mostly occurs in public offices. We have adopted an ambitious budget and for its success, eliminating corruption is a must.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with her valiant and far-sighted leadership, has placed Bangladesh as a role model of development. Though we are going through a tough time now, we believe she will be able to bring us out from this grave situation. This budget was just another bold step with many challenges. If zero tolerance policy on corruption is adopted, then we can achieve all the goals and everything will be on proper track. Hence, all of us need to play our part with utmost honesty and patriotism to move forward.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)